On this day set aside to honor mothers in this country, perhaps we should take a few minutes to honor an artist who made it his business to honor mothers. No, we're not talking about James McNeill Whistler. His much-touted veneration of his mother was actually little more than an "Arrangement of Black and Gray" as the title very clearly indicates. Mr. Whistler may have loved his mother dearly, but you'd never have known it from the painting he did of her. No, this man's name was J.C. Hall. He once was a somewhat successful horseradish and toothpowder salesman. Not to belabor the point, but he really wasn't all that good an artist either. He did have a talent and dream, however--bringing fine art to the masses--in his case, one beautiful picture at a time. In 1910, he and his family established Hall Brothers, and began designing, printing, and selling post cards, helping inarticulate sons and daughters all over the Midwest express their heartfelt gratitude for the most beloved individuals in their lives.
In a short time, the company became Hallmark Greetings, and even long before they adopted their now-famous slogan, their artwork had a carefully designed element of what we would call, "class," for those who "...cared enough to send the very best." And like all great artwork, people have come to treasure them for generations. So has Hallmark. They have an entire, climate-controlled room, the size of a small gymnasium, full of them--so many that no one has had the time to even COUNT them. Hall's personal archive has cards sent him by such luminaries as Helen Hayes and such sentimental pushovers as W. C. Fields, Winston Churchill, and J. Edgar Hoover (presumably not for Mother's Day of course). The collection also has work from well-known artists such as Louis Prang and such wildly divergent talents as Norman Rockwell and Pablo Picasso. Nothing by Whistler, except for his mother of course, who has made HER contribution a number of times.
Given the fact that Mother's Day is so steeped in tradition, the Hallmark archive is a gold mine for designers. And, it's a beautifully illustrated history of how we have viewed our mothers over the past ninety years. As might be expected, the early ones have a distinctly Victorian flavor, perhaps reaching a peak during the lean years of the Depression when the mothers of the world struggled most mightily. During the war years, things lightened up a bit with the first use of humor to express motherly sentiments. During the fifties, there came the "June Cleaver" look with apron-shaped cards and those depicting glamorously smiling mothers "flitting" about their pristinely sparkling kitchens; culminating in recent years with the "Shoebox" line and its more sharply-honed message of motherly love. Hallmark is currently involved in a 50-year project to scan and digitize the entire archive so that it may be accessed instantly (almost) from CAD screens all over their corporate "campus," allowing the old to suddenly become new again; and mothers of the future, all over to world, to receive the "very best" from those who love them.